Do You Have a Will?

A will is an important part of every estate plan. Most people are generally familiar with what is called a will, or more formally a “Last Will and Testament”, but many people don't understand what it does, and what it doesn't do.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “How To Determine If You Need A Will” says that, for adults under 30, even more live without wills—80%. Therefore, if you are married and/or have children, you should have a will, even if it’s just a very basic one.

A will is a legal document that directs who or what entity will inherit your property when you die. Perhaps most importantly to those with children, a will designates who will be their guardian if you die while they are still minors. That reason alone should be enough for you to put a will in place. Otherwise, a court will make that decision for you.

It can be a very simple document that leaves everything to a single beneficiary, such as a spouse, your children, a sibling or a friend, or charity. It can also be more complex — using very complicated estate planning techniques to create trusts to benefit your children in the event you die while they are still minors. The type of will you need depends on the complexity and total value of your estate and what you need it to do for your family.

If you own any property that requires a legal change of ownership, then you must have a will to carry out your wishes. These are things like real estate, bank accounts without a POD designation, brokerage accounts and vehicles. If you die without a will, or intestate, then the state law will control how your property will be divided by the courts.

A will can also reduce or eliminate the conflict that might occur between potential beneficiaries. If you die intestate, your heirs might be inclined to dispute who gets what. A will can clearly state who gets your property. This won’t always prevent a fight, but it will provide legal relief to allow your executor to make sure your wishes are carried out and assets are allocated per your instructions.

An executor is the person or corporate trustee that you appoint in your will and who the court puts in charge of your estate.

Drafting a basic will is typically not a difficult or arduous process. Use an experienced estate planning attorney because most people underestimate the complexity of their estate and how best to transfer assets to future generations or charity. A simple clerical mistake or error in the execution process can be disastrous. There are also other basic planning documents that an estate planning attorney can draft that should also be a part of a basic estate plan.

A will is something all of us should have. The time, energy and cost can all be justified when you think about the peace of mind you give to those you leave behind. Don’t delay! If you are in the Madison, Wisconsin area contact us to start the discussion.

Reference: Forbes (May 25, 2022) “How To Determine If You Need A Will”

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